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God's philosophers : how the medieval…

God's philosophers : how the medieval world laid the foundations of… (original 2009; edition 2009)

by James Hannam

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Title:God's philosophers : how the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science
Authors:James Hannam
Info:London : Icon Books, 2009.
Collections:Your library, Darwin, Google Drive
Tags:Science, History.Medieval

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God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam (2009)



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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The Dark Ages weren't nearly as dark as we have been led to believe. So argues James Hannam in his 2009 book "The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middles Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution."

Historians have told us that human progress pretty much came to a standstill during the Middle Ages. Not until the Renaissance, beginning in the 14th century, did science, technology, the arts, etc., begin to bloom. Hannam contends the Renaissance was actually a step backward in many respects. The Renaissance, he says, was "if anything, even more superstitious and violent" than the Middle Ages. Belief in the occult, especially astrology, became stronger. In terms of science, significant work by scholars of the Middle Ages was ignored, while Renaissance scholars turned back to the teachings of Plato and others from an earlier time for scientific insights.

Fortunately the printing press had been invented late in the so-called Dark Ages, and most of the earlier writings on scientific matters had been published and preserved. Later Galileo and other Renaissance thinkers made full use of these books in their own work, even though they did not usually give sufficient credit to those whose work they built on.

Those earlier men of science have much less familiar names, but Hannam seeks to give attention to many who led the way, including people like Richard of Wallingford, Richard Swineshead, John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Cecco D'Ascoli. Today the Church and science are often perceived as being at odds with each other, especially over the question of the origin of life, but most of these scholars from the Middle Ages were men of the Church who saw it as their duty to discover everything they could about the universe God made. Had it not been for the Church, the Dark Ages might actually have been dark.

Hannam even argues the Inquisition was not nearly as bad as history has led us believe. The Church did send some people to the stake, but they were relatively few. In most cases the Church sought ways to avoid severe penalties. The Inquisition, the author points out, introduced a new legal system still in use today in which crimes are actually investigated and defendants are given an opportunity to defend themselves.

"Ironically, by keeping philosophers focused on nature instead of metaphysics, the limitations set by the Church may even have benefited science in the long term," Hannam writes. "Furthermore, and contrary to popular belief, the Church never supported the idea that the earth is flat, never banned human dissection, never banned the zero, and certainly never burnt anyone at the stake for scientific ideas."

Hannam writes for the lay reader, not for either scientists or historians. Read his book to see the Dark Ages in a new light. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jan 22, 2015 |
A fascinating debunking of the myth that the church held science back in the more than 1000 years between the fall of the Western Roman empire and Galileo.

In fact medieval philosophers pioneered the union between logic, mathematics and natural philosophy to understand the world as a revelation of God and the church had no problem with this so long as the boundary between philosophy and theology was respected. It was the Renaissance with its desire to return to classical models that nearly deprived of us advances in mechanics, physics, mathematics, and astronomy. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Sep 18, 2014 |
Although this was an interesting survey of scientific thinking before 1500, Hannam works his thesis a little too hard, and sometimes a little too meanly. Science in our meaning of the word was rather thin on the ground before the Renaissance, but Hannam points out the necessary stops along the way, however silly they might seem now. He just pushes too hard to 'prove' that the Church was not in and of itself anti-science.
  ffortsa | Mar 9, 2012 |
The title says it all really. Hannam takes a look at Medieval science, though he doesn't use that word as it wasn't coined until a lot later, here it is natural philosophy, alchemy, astrology and early medicine. He looks at how people viewed things and the fact that studying nature was a part of a belief in God and his creation. Not surprisingly as most educated people were priests, monks and other religious people. The language of study was Latin and there was an international community of thought connected by the newly founded centres of learning - the first universities.

Hannam explains how Medieval thoughts and ideas developed. How this could skirt the boundaries of heresy and the later schism in the Catholic church that led to Protestantism. How ideas were suppressed by later generations, how the crusades and the reconquest of Spain introduced older Greek ideas and also Arabic thinking. This is a vast subject and Hannam covers it all in a very readable fashion. He includes very useful appendices - a timeline and a list of key characters were particularly interesting. He did lose me by his obvious bias, especially when it came to his thoughts on his further reading suggestions - a bit too blunt in my opinion.

So he came to his subject with an obvious bias. The idea that Medieval thought has been neglected though science is a sum of everything that has gone before including this period of history. I found this overstated as I had heard of a lot of the people and ideas he talks about already so there were no real surprises for me. That said I did enjoy reading this book and the way he presented his thesis. A very good overview of this period of history. ( )
2 vote calm | Mar 5, 2012 |
Hannam makes the argument that the development in philosophical thinking and study of the natural world in the middle ages is the cornerstone on which science was built during the later “scientific revolution” and that the role of the Catholic Church and medieval philosophy in the development of science is undervalued today. Hannam is a fantastic writer, in that he provides an engrossing history of the middle ages—especially providing interesting biosketches of the important philosophers of the time. Therefore, I recommend this book to popular readers of medieval history, history of science, or church history. However, Hannam’s book is not thorough enough to be considered a good academic history. He tends to provide the most interesting stories, ignoring the fact that some of his stories are controversial. Hannam also has a slightly defensive tone about the role of the Catholic Church during the middle ages. To most popular readers, I think the shortcomings of this book can be ignored, since it is a smooth and interesting read. ( )
  The_Hibernator | Feb 22, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
James Hannam is a good writer ..., but he allows his thesis to dominate to the extent that he distorts the findings of recent scholarship to help it fit. He has major problems with structuring a book and using his conceptual terms coherently and much of what he says is not supported by scholarship. His Catholicism often blinds him to the real difficulties in thinking independently when the punishment for heresy, however it was defined, was so brutal on earth and everlasting in hell. None of this detracts from “the good read” and the interesting information he provides about his heroes but this can hardly be called a book of high academic quality.
Hannam's thesis is that, by thinking critically, and by challenging classical authority, the natural philosophers of the medieval world prepared the way for modern science. He sees – Hannam is not alone in this – the history of medieval thought as a long and sometimes prickly conversation about Aristotle. The Church had its own problems with Aristotle, but concluded that he was broadly right, except when he was wrong, and philosophers should respect Aristotle except when his views clashed with Holy Writ.
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To understand why historians no longer feel comfortable with the term the 'Dark Ages', you only have to visit the British Museum in London to admire the treasure found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.
The most famous remark made by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was: 'If I have seen a little further then it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.' - Introduction
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Charting an epic journey through six centuries of history, 'God's Philosophers' brings back to light the discoveries of neglected geniuses like John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Thomas Bradwardine. It also puts into context the contributions of more familiar figures like Roger Bacon, St Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham.… (more)

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